Book Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

From Goodreads:

Around the world, black hand prints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real, she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”, she speaks many languages – not all of them human – and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When beautiful, haunted Akiva fixes fiery eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

I have a strange relationship with young adult novels. I really liked Magonia when a lot of other people didn’t, for example. In this particular case, I did not like Daughter of Smoke and Bone quite as much as the Goodreads consensus does. I really, truly was hoping to love it, as it was our book club pick this month. Star-crossed lovers, you say? I enjoyed that trope in These Broken Stars. Angels and demons are fun, too. But other than the world building, it just didn’t click with me in the way other books have. Perhaps it was because the main character’s personality seemed typical for the genre? Maybe it was the instant love between Akiva and Karou. Maybe it was the predictable plot. In any case, I just did not fall in love with Taylor’s story.

Let me start with what I did enjoy. This story was not what I expected it to be from the blurb on the back. The angels and demons are not what they first seem, and I quite liked that! I loved the descriptions of the various chimaera, of their different aspects, of their cultural myths and legends. While war between a slave race and a dominant race is nothing new, Taylor does manage to create an interesting conflict that will be quite the driving force in the later novels, I can only assume. Additionally, the use of teeth for wishes was grotesque and super cool at the same time, as is what the teeth are actually used for within the story.

However, as for the characters, I enjoyed the secondary characters over the main cast. Zuzana, Brimstone, Issa, even Razgut… I felt that they were all so much more more realistic than Akiva and Karou are. Karou reminded me of that comic describing young adult main characters being good at everything and a vampire to boot. (Of course, she isn’t a vampire, but I digress.) She’s talented at drawing, combat, has chimaera for a family… She’s as special as it gets. While it didn’t make me dislike her, it still felt too unbelievable even given the explanation. I think it may be because I prefer to see that growth during the course of the novel, rather than being given a character that’s already good at everything. Her only downsides seemed to be that she felt empty and acted as expected for her age, and I suppose that would be what teens would relate to and is, of course, understandable. Even so, I feel like more flaws or weaknesses would make her feel more “human”.

As for the romance… It was instant and frustrating, and the part that really made me want to put this novel down. While I thought it was definitely cute at times, there needed to be more development, even with the excuse given later on as to why they are so drawn to each other. There was just too much, too fast to begin to be believable, especially with the circumstances in which they first meet in the story. The romance fires sparks within a day, and I find that rather ridiculous. Instant lust, sure. That would make sense. Since it is termed as love in the story, however, I can’t help but shake my head.

With all of the above, as well as a jarring story structure (see: last fourth of the book switching gears dramatically), I can’t give this novel more than three stars. While I am curious to read the other two books in the series because of how the book ends, I am hesitant. I don’t really ship the romance as hard as I would like to, and the story really just isn’t gripping me the way it should to read it all. In one word, it was unbelievable. And that’s a weird word to use for a fantasy novel.

Book Review: Magonia

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From Goodreads:

Aza Ray is drowning in thin air.

Since she was a baby, Aza has suffered from a mysterious lung disease that makes it ever harder for her to breathe, to speak—to live.

So when Aza catches a glimpse of a ship in the sky, her family chalks it up to a cruel side effect of her medication. But Aza doesn’t think this is a hallucination. She can hear someone on the ship calling her name.

Only her best friend, Jason, listens. Jason, who’s always been there. Jason, for whom she might have more-than-friendly feelings. But before Aza can consider that thrilling idea, something goes terribly wrong. Aza is lost to our world—and found, by another. Magonia.

Above the clouds, in a land of trading ships, Aza is not the weak and dying thing she was. In Magonia, she can breathe for the first time. Better, she has immense power—and as she navigates her new life, she discovers that war is coming. Magonia and Earth are on the cusp of a reckoning. And in Aza’s hands lies the fate of the whole of humanity—including the boy who loves her. Where do her loyalties lie?

I honestly was not sure if I would like this book in the beginning. It begins with stream of consciousness writing, with a slice of life focus. While fascinating and beautifully written in its own right, I could not help but feel that Aza Ray was a special snowflake. Nerdier than the rest of the class? Check. Only one friend who understands her, and is just as nerdy? Check. Nerdiness is almost to the point of being beyond belief? Check. A mysterious illness that not even doctors understand? Needless to say, I had a hard time initially with the novel. However, as I continued reading, these facets added to the fantastic and dream-like atmosphere of the story. While we see a typical YA heroine with special powers and coming to terms with her destiny, the world building and mythos make up for these tropes and others throughout the story.

Maybe I have not read enough, but I have never read something quite like this novel. Ships in the sky? Sure, I’ve seen that plenty of times. Birds that roost in your lungs to amplify your singing voice, however? That as well as plenty of other facets, from the Magonian race to the Rostrae, were unique and refreshing. I fell in love with this world, even if there were plot holes abound and a lack of believable characters.

Even if they were unbelievable, however, I still could not help but empathize with them all. They all had clear goals, clear motivations, and were never black and white. It was also nice to see Aza and Jason’s parents play such a strong role in the story as well. I could not help but root for everyone, cry with them, and laugh with them, especially with how strong the audiobook performance was. Even once I had to turn in the audiobook and read the physical book, their voices stayed with me.

Although there was a romance triangle, it made sense within the context of the novel and did not bother me as much as they normally tend to do. Jason and Aza together, in particular, were adorable, and I could not get enough of them. From the alligator costume in their beginning years to watching giant squid together, the entire time I wanted to both hug them and push them together at every moment.

Factoring in the improbable characters and plot holes (seriously, Jason, using the dark web as an excuse for all the shenanigans you manage to get up to??), I give this novel four out of five stars for wonderful world building, emotional and poetic writing, and for making me cry on the bus home of all places. I will definitely be giving the second book a try, as Aza Ray’s story will stick with me for a long time.  Thank you, Maria Dahvana Headley, for writing such a poignant and amazing novel.

Visual Novel Review: Planetarian: The Reverie of a Little Planet

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From Steam:

It is thirty years after the failure of the Space Colonization Program.
Humanity is nearly extinct. A perpetual and deadly Rain falls on the Earth.
Men known as “Junkers” plunder goods and artifacts from the ruins of civilization.
One such Junker sneaks alone into the most dangerous of all ruins — a “Sarcophagus City”.
In the center of this dead city, he discovers a pre-War planetarium.
And as he enters he is greeted by Hoshino Yumemi, a companion robot.
Without a single shred of doubt, she assumes he is the first customer she’s had in 30 years.
She attempts to show him the stars at once, but the planetarium projector is broken.
Unable to make heads or tails of her conversation, he ends up agreeing to try and repair the projector …

For those unfamiliar with visual novels, and kinetic novels in particular, before I get into Planetarian’s review I will give a short explanation. Visual novels essentially are compromised of text, visuals, and music. Often there are choices to be made that will feed you into alternate endings and paths, making the experience one that is worth repeating, such as a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. The amount of interaction can range from a “kinetic novel”, which has no choices, to “adventure games”, which contain more gameplay elements. While there are many that have been written in Japan, the amount that have been translated into English officially is much smaller, though growing. There are also many fan translation patches that you can get if you have Japanese copies of certain games, so that is an option that exists.

To warn you, however, many have eroge content, meaning that there often is 18+ scenes added in, which I will warn you about if I review one of that nature. Additionally, I will let you know if there is an official English version available or if I played a patched in fan translation.

Planetarian: The Reverie of a Little Planet is an all-ages kinetic novel developed by Key that was originally released in 2004, and has been released in English on Steam. The story follows a Junker who scavenges a post-apocalyptic world for anything useful he can find. The unnamed protagonist, on one of his excursions to a sarcophagus city, finds himself in a planetarium with a female android named Hoshino Yumemi that has been waiting for customers for thirty years. Much of the plot centers around this planetarium and its sole occupant, who is unaware of the nuclear and biological warfare that encompassed the planet a generation prior.

First of all, this visual novel broke my heart. I can’t really get into why without spoiling the whole story, but do go in knowing that you’ll probably cry. I knew this beforehand from the Steam reviews, and still I was a sniveling wreck.  This means that the novel is easy to connect to and empathize with the characters, which is great in the four hours it takes to play the game.

Over the course of the story, there are only two characters that are presented, and in the setting, that is honestly just enough. Seeing the interactions between the Junker and Yumemi is heartwarming and simultaneously heartbreaking, as the Junker’s cynicism and Yumemi’s optimism often clash. Yumemi believes that customers will eventually come back to the planetarium, while the Junker time and time again tries to explain that there is nothing left. It is a contrast between the optimistic belief in humans and the reality that humanity has wrought onto itself.

The aspect I loved the most about this story is the focus on the stars. With the Rain pummeling down on the world constantly, the sky has long been obscured from view. The stars represent hope and belief in humanity’s possibility to heal.

While relatively short and predictable in many aspects, the novel packs a punch. There’s just enough exposition to color the story in the beginning, discussions on humanity’s path to the stars, and character growth from both parties.  Even the Junker’s harsh manner becomes manageable by the end.  The artwork, while relatively simple in comparison to modern day visual novels, is still just enough to paint an accompanying picture to the text. The music, particularly “Gentle Jena”, does a fantastic job at tugging at the heartstrings and making one want to look to the night sky.

Overall, I give this visual novel four out of five twinkling stars in the sky, mainly because it is rather predictable. Even so, I feel like it will stay with me for a long time, and I look forward to trying the anime adaptation soon.

Steam

 

 

Comic Review: Descender, Vol 1: Tin Stars

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From Goodreads:

Young Robot boy TIM-21 and his companions struggle to stay alive in a universe where all androids have been outlawed and bounty hunters lurk on every planet. Written by award-winning creator, Jeff Lemire, Descender is a rip-roaring and heart-felt cosmic odyssey. Lemire pits humanity against machine, and world against world, to create a sprawling epic. Created by Jeff Lemire (Sweet Tooth, Trillium) and Dustin Nguyen’s (Little Gotham) critically acclaimed, bestselling new science fiction series!

Collecting: Descender 1-6

Okay, it is time to reel in my flailing before beginning, this graphic novel was that good.  I honestly have not read something this amazing in quite a long time, and it was wonderful for a comic to just “click” with me so well.  Descender is fantastic sci-fi rendered in a beautiful watercolor setting that was incredibly unique and refreshing.  Alien worlds emblazoned in rich shades, so unfamiliar and otherworldly, fit with the flow of the story well enough that any doubts I may have had from the deviation from normal comic book art were blown out of the water.

The story follows TIM-21, a companion android for children that wakes up years after an attack from massive robots known as the Harvesters.  Alone and afraid on a desolate mining planet far from populated reaches of the galaxy, different factions vie for retrieving him due to his importance in identifying the origin of the murderous machines that killed millions upon millions.  Those groups, such as the UGC, Grishians, and the like, all have their own clear motives and were each fascinating in their own right.  I cannot wait to learn more about each of them as this comic progresses!

The grayness of each character was another favorite part of this work for me.  No one was strictly good or evil, which in comics feels great as there is so often a clear good guy and bad guy, especially in the superhero genre.  From the “father of modern robotics” to those who want to destroy all robots in existence, they all have solid reasoning for their actions and their own light and dark sides.  This becomes clearer as the comic progresses.  All we can root for is poor TIM-21, who just wants to see his family again.  And, of course, Driller, because Driller is the best and there is no argument that’ll make me believe otherwise.

Finally, the theme of the humanity of robots is always a wonderful one to visit, and this comic has this in spades.  TIM-21 is programmed with emotions to facilitate his job as a companion robot, and the robots shown throughout the story feel much more human than their modern-day counterparts.  Yet, they are being massacred due to the robot attack that so many planets endured.  The parallels to genocide are not easily missed, and the easiest characters to empathize with are the machines.

Overall, I cannot wait to read the second and third trade paperbacks that are currently out and will likely review those as well!  (We may have already bought them, I was so excited.)  Descender deserves all five stars, as Jeff Lemire has created a beautiful world and characters I can get behind.  This is probably my favorite sci-fi comic outside of Saga, which is a high honor!

Amazon

Goodreads

Comic Review: The Beauty

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From Goodreads:

Modern society is obsessed with outward beauty. What if there was a way to guarantee you could become more and more beautiful every day? What if it was a sexually transmitted disease?

In the world of The Beauty, physical perfection is only one sexual encounter away. The vast majority of the population has taken advantage of it, but Detectives Vaughn and Foster will soon discover it comes at a terrible cost. Now, they’ll have to find their way past corrupt politicians, vengeful federal agents, and a terrifying mercenary out to collect the price on their heads.

Collects the first six issues of the critically acclaimed, Pilot Season winning series by writer/artist JEREMY HAUN (Constantine, Batwoman) and co-writer JASON A. HURLEY.

To begin, please be aware that this graphic novel contains mature content and is rated M accordingly.  Nudity, strong violence, vulgarity, and the like are gratuitously used.  You have been warned.

Image Comics is my favorite publisher in the comic book industry, outside of Dark Horse and the like, so picking this horror trade up was a no-brainer for me.  With such a fascinating premise as an STD that causes you to become beautiful, I could not say no.

That being said, even though I enjoyed the first six issues of the comic overall, I felt there was something lacking.  I wanted more scientific explanation for the disease, more character development, just… more from this.  It was very plot driven, and while we get bits and pieces of character backstory, other characters we get little to nothing about.  This can be attributed to the medium itself, of course, but with the issues following this apparently following a different set of characters, I was really disappointed in that aspect.  If you cannot remember the character’s names without referencing the material itself immediately after reading, there is a problem with the amount of impact they are leaving on you.  And with how comically bad the villain was for the general atmosphere of the story, mask and all, I was a bit let down, to be completely honest.

While the overall story was predictable and easy to follow, there tended to be a lot of holes as well.  (HOW DID THEY FIND THAT PERSON?  HOW DID THEY DO THIS AND THAT?  HOW???)  Even so, I really did enjoy the general concept and where the authors took it.  The themes of governmental cover up and pharmaceutical control of the population always tend to grab my interest, and following the detectives as you see the full picture with them is wonderfully intense.  The horror aspects are well done, and the gruesomeness of the work can be felt in both the text and the accompanying images.  The end of the sixth issue is satisfying and, to be honest, the comic could end there and I would be happy.  No cliffhangers, a nice solid open ending.  I honestly do not know what they could do with subsequent issues, it felt complete enough.

Something that pleasantly surprised me was the LGBT inclusion within the story.  Both one of the anti-Beauty activists as well as the CDC director are stated/shown to be in same-sex relationships, the latter with a family of her own.  It was done so naturally and seamlessly, did not feel tokenized, and is a breath of fresh air, honestly.

This story is quick and relentless, and I give The Beauty a solid three stars.  If you are looking for a quick horror comic read, I would definitely recommend trying it if you are there for the story itself and not the characters.  Characters are easily disposable enough in horror anyway, right?  Haha.

Book Review: Mistborn: The Final Empire

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From Goodreads:

In a world where ash falls from the sky, and mist dominates the night, an evil cloaks the land and stifles all life. The future of the empire rests on the shoulders of a troublemaker and his young apprentice. Together, can they fill the world with color once more?

In Brandon Sanderson’s intriguing tale of love, loss, despair and hope, a new kind of magic enters the stage – Allomancy, a magic of the metals.

Note: The complete title of the book is Mistborn: The Final Empire, but TFE is something of a subtitle, and the vast majority call it Mistborn, which is the only title printed on some editions of the book. I follow that convention in this review.

Second Note: I included the Brazillian cover above as well because of the utterly amazing artwork by Marc Simonetti. It’s my favorite cover, though I don’t have a copy of it–yet.

Mistborn was the first Sanderson book I picked up, after hearing that he would be finishing The Wheel of Time, which, at that time, was my favorite fantasy series. I was wondering who this kid was, and if he was really any good at all. Needless to say, this means that I went into Mistborn with very high standards, standards that I was fairly sure wouldn’t be met.

They were.

I don’t think I’ve read a book that has exceeded my expectations by this much since—every new Sanderson I read continues to blow me away, but I already have the highest expectations of those books, and I have decently high expectations of everything else I read too. Perhaps one or two debut novels—The Emperor’s Blades, for instance—have met this mark, but even that is debatable.

But what makes Mistborn so great? Well, what doesn’t?

Sanderson has brought his signature magic system creation to the table, giving us Allomancy, a skill, generally thought to be genetically passed on, which grants the user the ability to ingest and burn certain metals to temporarily gain magical powers. It’s really interesting, as per Sanderson’s second law of magic, because of its limitations: You can only burn as much metal as you have in you, some metals are incredibly rare, and some metals burn much more quickly than others.

Paired with the Allomancy is the world of Scadrial, another brilliant creation. Covered in giant volcanoes (ashmounts), which belch ash into the atmosphere, staining everything with soot and requiring a huge workforce to keep the cities clean, Scadrial is also subject to nightly mists, which cover the entire planet. These mists are the domain of the Allomancers, which gives them—and the book—the name of Mistborn. It’s an incredibly evocative image of a planet, and one that I loved reading about.

And he’s filled the planet with incredibly interesting people. The skaa, the slave class, have been oppressed for centuries, and forbidden from mating with the non-skaa, for fear that Allomantic powers might leak through. But, of course, this restriction hasn’t really worked out all that well for the Lord Ruler, the, uh, ruler of The Final Empire, and there are some among the skaa with magical powers.

But, of course, the world is nothing, the the story is nothing, without interesting characters. And Sanderson has created a cast of them.

There’s Kelsier, a skaa, and yet, somehow, a full Allomancer, with power over all of the metals. He’s survived an incredibly tragic and harsh past, yet he always manages to smile in the face of danger and despair. He wants revenge upon the Lord Ruler, and he is assembling a crew to help him get it. He and his crew are an utterly awesome band with a really cool dynamic—some of my favorite chapters in the book are the planning chapters, where the whole group is in one room, simply talking.

The main character, Vin, is a street urchin skaa who is trying to survive as part of a thieving crew. But when the crew’s latest hit goes awry, she’s in mortal danger—until Kelsier decides to recruit her. Vin’s growth through the story, as she slowly gains the ability to trust others, and her sheer resilience to whatever life throws at her make her an instant favorite, and she is a truly kick-ass heroine.

Elend Venture is the man I would wish to be if I were living on Scadrial. Born to the nobility, he’s not satisfied with the government, and in an empire where such meetings are declared treasonous by the all-power Lord Ruler, he has a close selection of friends who plot ways to better the government—even if it means going against the Lord Ruler’s orders, or overthrowing parts of his system. He also has an incredible love of books, and an utterly disarming attitude that I absolutely love.

The villains, Lord Venture, the Inquisitors, the Lord-Ruler… They are all utterly terrifying, and Sanderson has done them all brilliantly. In a world where GRRM-like books are becoming more and more common, it’s nice to have some villains I can just straight up hate, and some heroes I can cheer for.

Although, as Kelsier says, “There’s always another secret.”

In summary, Mistborn is the brilliant beginning to one of my favorite trilogies of all time, with an utterly unique Sanderson magic system, a dark, ash-covered world, a spunky, yet flawed heroine, and a cool team of thieves who want to pull of the heist of the millennium, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Five of Five stars, and if you’ve not read this book yet, I may have to disown you.

Brandon Sanderson’s Website.

Goodreads.

Amazon.

Book Review: Vicious

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Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong. Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?

In Vicious, V. E. Schwab brings to life a gritty comic-book-style world in vivid prose: a world where gaining superpowers doesn’t automatically lead to heroism, and a time when allegiances are called into question.’

Vicious is a book I honestly hadn’t heard a lot about before I met the book blogger community. I know that at one point, I saw the cover and summary on tor.com, and I probably spotted it a few times while at the bookstore. But I never really had a strong urge to pick it up. I’m not entirely sure why—maybe it was the fact that the setting was neither high fantasy nor sci-fi. Maybe it was because the cover isn’t to my tastes (I know lots of people love it. It’s just not for me.). I’m not sure. Regardless, it took me a while to get around to really wanting to read this book.

But as soon as I met some of my book blogger friends, they started pushing this book on me. Relentlessly. It’s something we do, something we enjoy, and, I’ve found, something we (I think of myself as part of the community now, whether I really am or not.) are quite good at. Vicious was one of the books most heavily pushed on me. The main culprits were Nikki, Angie, and Jessie, but there were plenty more of them. Finally, I broke down and asked for the book for my birthday, received it, and I made it my first read of 2015.

And I’m glad I did. I tore through the book in only a few days and utterly loved it. I’m rather annoyed at myself for not picking it up earlier, and if you’re just hearing about it now, don’t make the mistake I did. Get it immediately, and go read it. NOW.

Oh, alright. I’ll write the rest of the review. But my opinion isn’t going to change.

Vicious is the story of two college boys, Victor and Eli, their relationship as roommates, and an experiment gone horribly wrong. It’s a chilling, disturbing tale that is utterly gripping, and simultaneously horrifying and amazing. I really enjoyed reading it.

Setting is incredibly important to any novel, and while I may have initially been reluctant to pick up this novel because it’s not a setting I’m familiar with, the college atmosphere was perfectly done. I’m a college student, and I read this book while on break. It gave me shivers purely from the accuracy of the descriptions and their clarity. And while the college is not the entirety of the setting, it plays a large part, and the rest is equally well done. It’s not a new world, built from the ground up, but that doesn’t make it any less perfect. It’s the setting this story demanded, and it was handed with amazing skill.

The structure is handled in a way I’ve never seen before. Every chapter happens at a different place in time, and it’s not even remotely linear. The chapters jump from the present, to ten years ago at the university, to the weeks leading up to the main events of the novel. This main thread of events, which happens over a period of a day and a half, from the first chapter to the last (excluding the epilogue), focuses on Victor and Eli’s impending first meeting in a 10 years. While this structure had the opportunity to be incredibly confusing, Schwab has instead crafted a narrative that is unbelievably tense and gripping. It demands that you keep reading, and it’s always ratcheting up the tension until the final scenes, at which point everything comes together with an incredible bang. It’s so well crafted, and it makes me wish other authors would use unconventional structures more often, though I doubt many have the skill to reproduce the magic that Schwab wrought here.

But even the best setting and plot fall flat without good characters. I’m happy to report that Schwab’s cast, kept elegantly small, is filled with utterly fascinating characters with fascinating quirks—and abilities. Victor’s past, his problems with his family, and the way he treats those around him paint him as an incredibly engaging, complex character. And while he’s not someone I would ever want to hug—or even be close to—I feel like I understand him. As I do with the other main characters, Eli, Sydney, and Serena. Eli, in particular, I loved to hate as a villain. I’m going to put that down to Schawb’s writing skills and not the fact that I know someone IRL with the name Eliot whom I particularly dislike.

In summary, this book has it all. Utterly realistic setting, amazing plot with a cool structure, and utterly enthralling, complex, creepy characters. I’m telling you without reserve to go pick this book up and read it, right now. Five of five stars, and a place on my lifetime favorites shelf without a doubt.

*returns to stalking his mailbox for his copy of A Darker Shade of Magic*

V.E. Schwab’s website.

Vicious on Goodreads.

Vicious on Amazon.